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Need advice/ help for new heating system

cberm
cberm Member Posts: 4
Hello, I am a new member and could use some advice on the best heating/cooling system to install in our home.  We have an old home (built in 1928) with plaster walls and no ducts.  The home was heated with radiators, but half of the radiators no longer work and due to the way they had been patched together, cannot be repaired without tearing out all the walls of the house. 



We want to upgrade to a new heating/cooling system for the house and are looking for the best ductless system possible: one that will cause minimal damage in installation, will endure for many years, and will be more effecting in heating than the radiators. 



I was thinking of the Fujitsu ductless heat pumps, but have read several complaints about this system.  1) The heat is not very powerful, 2) It can stop working effectively in below freezing temperatures, 3) they break down easily, have a short warranty, and it is difficult to find replacement parts as they create new models. 



We live in Maryland, where temperatures can get below 32 degrees fairly often in the winter.  It is important for me to have a warm, toasty house when it is cold outside.  Obviously, lowering our heating costs is also a concern. 



In short - what are our best options?  Can anyone living in a cold climate comment on the usefulness and durability of Fujitsu?  Are there other, better heating options for old houses that I don't know about? 



Thanks to everyone in advance for any help you can offer,

Carrie

Comments

  • Snowmelt
    Snowmelt Member Posts: 1,414
    edited April 2014
    Fijitsu

    Are the rads shot, can you go to plumbing supply house and see if you can get new rad or order them?



    For cooling go with the figitsugeneral.com



    Do you have steam or hot water?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    Well, the obvious first question is...

    why don't the existing radiators work?  There really isn't a whole lot that can go wrong with a radiator...



    So if you could tell us why the existing radiators don't work, and what type of system you are working with (hot water or steam) we can get a lot farther along.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,736
    Just a homeowner

    But I work for an industrial HVAC company and work directly with many HVAC engineers.  Most are of the consensus that in this area (MD) a heat pump is definitely NOT the way to go.  They sell them like hotcakes around here because the install costs are relatively low, but equipment longevity isn't very good (typically).  I look at it this way, when I ask an engineer what they would install and they pretty much never say heat pump that's a good indicator to me as to what is good and what isn't.  I will reiterate what was said already, give more details on your system and you will get a lot of fantastic advice.  Don't discount the rads because they are old, I have steam heat and it is fantastic heat toasty warm and comfortable!
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • heatpro02920
    heatpro02920 Member Posts: 991
    Heat pump as primary?

    I don't think mini splits are a great "primary" heating system. Heat pumps can be reliable and work well in very cold temps, BUT I have never installed a heat pump only system, I use them as aux and supplemental heaters. Now as far as invasion goes, I agree with the pros above, get your hydronic system repaired and maybe throw in a new boiler of some sort, then install some mini splits for supplemental heat. This can be a nice system, use your heatpumps for heat down to 38 degrees or so then use your hydronic system for temps below that where the heat pumps start to use more energy than a fuel fired system..



    Now as far as an all in one system for heat and cool, I am sorry to say unless you go radiant heat/cool {which is very invasive} you are not going to find an answer... High pressure and mini splits are options but the best way to go is going to be a ducted furnace with a/c coil and condenser {heat pump or not}... Mildly invasive depending on your house, but cost effective since with a/c you will need duct work anyway..



    I have installed mini splits and unico systems {many of them} and everytime I think to myself, not in my house, first with mini splits it just reminds me of something I see in a dentist office, they are glorified window units to me, and unico systems are loud, ugly, expensive, and dont work extremely well, I used to install a bunch of them, now they have slowed down a lot, people dont ask about them as often as they used to and I have ripped a few bad installs out, you really need a good pro to get it rite...



    So look into getting your hydronic system back on track, the cost may not be as prohibitive as you except, I know mini splits look like the saving grace of HVAC but they are not the answer to the entire question, sure they have their place but that is next to a primary heating system not in place of it..
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,736
    Out of personal curiosity

    As well as information for the original poster.  I know we can't talk price, but I am going to pose this question anyway.  Not asking about actual numbers, but for comparison sake.  Wouldn't a bunch of mini splits to cover an entire house (properly) cost significantly more than just doing a traditional duct system?  The quotes I have seen in my area seem to indicate this, but curious if that holds true in most areas?  If I am stepping on the price rule here just tell me that.  Also aside from that it does seem to be a general consensus on here that fixing what you have is generally more cost effective then tearing out and starting over.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Tinman
    Tinman Member Posts: 2,808
    I would...

    take the time to have a reputable contractor evaluate your hydronic heating system and provide you with options to get it working properly if need be. You could be abandoning a potentially ideal system otherwise.

    As far as the AC goes, I would go with a high velocity system like Space Pak or Unico. If properly designed and installed they will give you many years of quiet, dependable comfort.

    My two cents-
    Steve Minnich
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,827
    What part of Maryland

    are you in? We're located in Baltimore. 
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • cberm
    cberm Member Posts: 4
    Still need advice

    Thank you all for your replies.  Unfortunately, I am an inexperienced Homeowner, so for example, I don't know what a "rad" is!  I also am not sure whether it is a steam or hot water system, though I assume it is hot water.  When I bleed the radiators, air is released first and then water.  I believe it is hot water pumping through the radiators that creates the heat.



    Our furnace is new and of good quality.  If it is possible to fix the radiator system, that would be ideal.  We had a Master Plumber come to create two thermostat zones for our house.  However, after the work was done we discovered that many of the top floor radiators would come on full blast in response to the basement thermostat, and many of the basement radiators would respond to the middle level thermostat.  Some radiators just didn't seem to work.  I thought the zones had been reversed, but when our plumber came back he told us that the problem couldn't be fixed because at some point in the house's history the radiators seemed to have been connected together in a haphazard way.  Instead of being connected by floor, many of the radiators on all 3 floors were connected, so that some are turning on and some off.  He said the only way to fix the problem would be to tear into all of the walls. 



    Since then, all of our basement radiators have stopped working.  When I have tried to bleed them, only water has come out - no air.  I have no idea why they aren't working.  The main reason we are desperate for an upgrade is that we are expecting a baby soon.  The baby's room gets no heat or air conditioning, and the basement (which now gets no heat) is going to be set up as a play room/ class room.  This is obviously not acceptable, so we really need to find a system that works to heat and cool the house.



    Our plumber tried to sell us on the Fujitsu heat pump system (which he was planning to install) since we have no ducts and we want to minimize damage to the house.  It sounded like a great plan, until I started reading about the low level of heat and the low durability of the system.  Your comments have confirmed that this is not a good upgrade.  What options do we have?  What can we do? 



    Thanks so much for your feedback, and any help you can provide,

    Carrie 
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,576
    Rad=radiator

    Sorry for the jargon.

    It does seem that you have a hot water heating system with radiators.

    When that system was first installed, all the house would have been made to heat evenly, and economically; or a new installer would have been found. Possibly, some error in the installation of the new boiler, or the separate zones has caused the system not to function properly.

    Have a look at the list of contractors in the "find a contractor" button here and see if anyone is close. If Steamhead is available, and not too far away, you would be advised by one of the best experts here.

    As regards to mini split Fujistsu systems, they are good for air-conditioning, and cool weather heating. When it is very cold out, their ability to suck heat out of the air becomes limited. Gas powered heat would be the cheapest per BTU. -NBC
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    Not a bit surprised

    that there may be some very odd plumbing indeed in your house as a result  of the zone split.  I have no desire to criticise the plumber who did your work -- he is doubtless a very good plumber indeed -- but heating systems are a little different from plumbing, unfortunately.



    All is not lost, however.  "Steamhead" is located in Baltimore, and you could contact him directly; his specialty is steam, but he's very good at hydronic systems as well. 



    What I would try to do for starters, though, is to see if you can get your master plumber to restore the system so that all the radiators heat.  Since he did the work to split the system, and it doesn't work that way, he really should be willing to put it back the way it was so it works.



    Then the next thing to do is to trace out the piping for the various radiators, and see what connects to what and where -- and make a nice sketch of the system as it really is.  This may take some detective work on your part, but is really kind of fun once you get into it.



    With the sketch in hand, you may be able to see how to split the system so it does work the way you want it to (you could scan the sketch and upload it here, so we could all take a look at it).  There should be a way to do it -- it just might not be obvious.



    There is another solution, however: once you get your plumber to put the system back together so it all works, you can control individual radiators with what are called "thermostatically controlled radiator valves".  They aren't all that cheap (but a lot cheaper than a whole new system!), but they do give you the ability to control each room individually.  I'd seriously consider doing that, particularly if the plumbing is a bit odd.



    More later...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    Great Advice

    You have been given some great advice, keep the hot water system and get a true radiant heating proffesional in to de-bug the system. I would bet money that the system is not nearly as screwey as you are being told. Could you post some pictures of the boiler and the associated piping? If we can "see" the system we can point you in the right direction with eyes wide open. Coming to this site for help was the best money you never spent :)



    Rob 
  • cberm
    cberm Member Posts: 4
    Thank you and question

    Thank you again for your kind feedback.  Question:  How do I trace out the piping to see what connects to what without breaking into the walls?  The pipes from the radiators all go directly into the walls  (see pic). 



    The zoning may not be the cause of the wonky plumbing, though of course I can't be sure.  The house was used as a group house for awhile, and it may be that certain pipes were connected to others for convenience.  Although it has been awhile, I believe that the reason we called in our plumber to begin with is because the radiators were not all functioning properly.  He advised putting in the zones to help create greater control over the home heating system. 



    I am including pics of our furnace and connections, as well as the zone control.  Unfortunately they may be fairly dark due to lack of lighting in the area.  If so I will try again when more light is coming in. 



    If our plumber cannot revert the zones back (he has become overextended with a number of projects), would a contractor such as Steamhead, or another, be able to do it? 



    Thanks so much again, you are all a great help.  I am beginning to feel more calm.

    Best wishes,

    Carrie  (PS see attached pics)
  • cberm
    cberm Member Posts: 4
    Steamhead?

    Hello, a follow-up question: several of you have recommended "Steamhead" in Baltimore.  However, I cannot find any reference to this name under "Find a Contractor," a general site search, or a search on Angie's List.  Is there another name I should be looking for?  How can I get in contact with this company?



    Thanks again,

    Carrie
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,275
    "Steamhead"

    is actually Frank Wilsey, and he runs a company called "All Steamed Up", in Baltimore.  For some reason or other he isn't in the Find a Contractor section.  However, you can contact him through the Wall's e-mail forwarding service.  The easiest way to do that is to look for a thread in the "strictly steam" section which has a post by him (the thread "is my steam boiler way oversized" has at least one post by him) and click on his name which will bring up a handy dandy "contact user" button.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    Photos

    Carrie, thanks for the photos. The pictures are not very clear. From what I can see, your near boiler piping is a mess. Unfortunately a master plumber is not necessarily a hydronic heating pro. Your boiler looks relatively new so i would defiantly keep it. Call Frank with "All Steamed Up". He will get it straitened out. Let us know how it goes



    Rob
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,827
    Thanks, all

    for the recommendations!
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • RobG
    RobG Member Posts: 1,850
    Steamhead

    I was going through some old threads looking for some info and was wondering if this woman ever contacted you (Steamhead) and if so, how did it turn out?
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,827
    She's near DC

    so I gave her Dan Foley's info, and told her to get back to me if she needed to. Haven't heard anything, hope she made out OK. 
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting